I have three adult children.
And, I must confess….I didn’t want them to grow up. But alas, they did anyway.
We’ve had our “moments” along this journey of growth and transition, and in learning just what that means for us in our relationship with each other in the newness of their adulthood – and my changing role as “mom”. It’s really different nowadays.
I have to say that I’m one grateful mama….my kids know I’m not perfect. But they know they are loved. And they know that I am really making my best effort, and that my intentions behind everything I do in regard to them are intentionally oriented towards their good, and the good of our family. But in my humanness, I still fall.
My husband and I are now in the season of the empty nest, and we’re learning to be the parents of grown people. We are still figuring out when to share our thoughts, and when we need to be silent and allow our kids to experience the rewards (and consequences) of their own decisions. It ain’t easy, ya’ll…
Maybe you’re like us and you’ve had a weak moment (or more) where you’ve unintentionally gotten lost in your own feelings or desires and perhaps spoken or reacted in ways that you regret – ways that are not ultimately in the best interest of your children (or yourselves) and the transforming relationship, even though well-intentioned. (Yes, we both know just how difficult it is to see a child-now-an-adult making decisions that you know might not turn out how they think it will – because we probably did a similar thing and had our behinds kicked, right?!)
Sometimes, even with the best of our heart’s intentions, we inadvertently step over a line that our children have drawn when we attempt to intervene with words or actions to try to prevent our children from suffering in ways that we did. Maybe we didn’t know the line was even there! The process of learning what does (and does not) constitute “helping” our adult kids can just be really hard, you know?
It seems that we are sometimes tempted to still see children where clearly adults now stand. We don’t see – right smack in front of us – that our children have become grown people whose developmental task is now to go out to meet the world and seek their vocation. Adults who need our affirmation, and our respect for them as adults with accountability for their own lives. And who do not need (or want) us to micro-manage their lives. (I’m thinking of Marie Baronne in my favorite episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond right about now…oh dear…)
As we parents are actively in that “letting-go-of-our-children” process, many of us also struggle with simply not knowing how, or why, or what to do to actually accomplish the “letting go” that we must do. Lots of challenges and frustrations arise which can be gut-wrenching at times.
So, how do we deal with the inevitable? The reality that our children are now grown and our relationship with them is forever changed from what it was before? How do we manage our own emotions and not burden our children with them while they are simply performing the normal, expected task of individuation and maturation into full adulthood?
Although stating affirmations seems like a great idea, just simply saying “I’m gonna _______ next time“, or “I’m never doing _____ again!” really doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t take us long to mess up, right? White-knuckled, sheer human will alone without a sincere effort to cooperate with God’s grace doesn’t necessarily move us toward the right intention, nor foster a more consistent, needed behavior change in how we interact with our adult kids. There must be something deeper to move and motivate us in this (at times) very painful process of “letting go”.
For me, the primary motivation for “letting go” is the deep love I have for God and for my children, and truly desiring the good for them above my own wants and desires.
The kind of love I actively seek to have for my children is a self-donative, self-less unconditional love – the kind of communal love for which we were created from the very beginning. It’s authentic love that I want to give….but that kind of love requires sacrifice to cooperate fully with God’s grace in order that His will – not mine – will be brought forth in each one of them. But, sacrifice hurts, ya’ll. Yet, it’s so worth it, for through the cross comes redemption and the communion we all desire so deeply.
It’s not easy or always clear cut to know what to do in a particular situation. Don’t know about you, but I still have the training wheels on my bike when it comes to this! Thank God for holy priests in the confessional, and the forgiveness of my children!
So, what DO we do when we feel the sting and deep ache of letting go? Or when we feel those emotions that can be so raw at times? How do we balance and cope with those experiences within our own hearts while desiring at the same time what is truly good for our children and for our new relationship with them as adults? One of the first things we must do is examine our own expectations of what that relationship should be.
I have found in my work and personal experience that our expectations of how things are supposed to be are very much tied to how we think things should go – which in many cases may not be rooted in truth or reality. And when we expect certain outcomes, and things don’t go like we think they should….well, simply put, we just don’t like it when we don’t get what we expect.
Even though we may not be exactly sure why we have certain expectations (or even if they are valid and truthful), we nonetheless place these expectations on other people – and the result can be discord in our relationships. But the last people that we would want to have problems with are our children, right?
I actually think about expectations – ALOT ya’ll:) – from all kinds of perspectives in all kinds of relationships – where our expectations come from, and why, and whether they are rightly ordered toward the good for others. A lot of the work that I do with others has to do with just that – looking at expectations and how they are affecting love and relationship in their lives.
In order to have the relationships that we really want – relationships that are virtuous at their core, and lead to communion in the family – we all must have our desires rightly ordered, and a clear understanding of our new adult roles in relationship, and our responsibility to God first.
Did you know that the Catholic Church has so much richness readily available to help us form virtuous intentions and authentic expectations which are wonderfully helpful as we make this transition of relationship and adult role-transformation?
I want to share with you what I’ve learned (and am still learning) about this. Believe me, there’s so much more to say on this topic! In the meantime, check out this interview with my youngest daughter Olivia.
Parents, do you have some specific questions about your own relationship with your adult children? Do you wonder how you can improve your communication and interactions with them? What are some of the challenges and struggles that you find in trying to interact with them?
And what about some input from the adult children out there? What is it that you’d love to have in your relationship with your parents? If you could tell your parents one thing that you’d like to improve in your relationship with them, what would it be? What is it that you’d like to say, but can’t and why?
I’d love to hear from you! Send me your questions, comments, or concerns below. Perhaps I can address your question in general terms in a future blog post or podcast to help us all learn more about nurturing healthy relationships between parents and adult children.